August 20, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. I’ll admit to knowing very little about professional wrestling, so this was the first I had heard about actor David Arquette’s scandal from nearly 20 years ago, as he promoted his movie READY TO RUMBLE (2000). Documentarian David Darg and Video director Price James collaborate here as co-directors to deliver a documentary on one of the strangest, most off-the-wall stories I’ve ever seen … and one that fits well with the reputation of the professional wrestling world.

In a sport that thrives on good guy vs bad guy, David Arquette became the most hated man in wrestling. The power brokers in the industry determined a publicity stunt with his becoming WCW Champion would lead to a boon for the business. The fan and wrestler backlash was harsh and severe, and Arquette claims it made him persona non grata in both the sport and in Hollywood, though his math doesn’t add up. He discloses his “10 years of rejections” for acting roles, when the wrestling brouhaha goes back 20 years. And on top of that, he has worked pretty consistently over those two decades – albeit mostly in projects that don’t appeal to mainstream audiences.

So all these years later, here comes David Arquette in his attempt to re-enter the world of wrestling and gain respect from those that think he disrespected their beloved sport. The temptation here is to label the documentary and Arquette a joke, but he seems so sincere in his desire to find his way, that we catch ourselves following his journey with interest. And it’s not always easy to do so. There is one moment in particular: Arquette is wearing a purple bedazzled wizard cape while sitting on a horse and vaping, when he states, “I’m sick of being a joke”. Umm.

Arquette is likely best known for his role in the SCREAM movies, of which there were four between 1996 and 2011, and a fifth is on the way for 2021. Or perhaps he is best known as the ex-husband of “Friends” star Courteney Cox, with whom he has a daughter. Then again, maybe his fame is derived from being part of a family entrenched in entertainment. This includes his acting sisters Rosanna, Patricia and Alexis (who died in 2016), brother Richmond, father Lewis (a well-established character actor), and grandfather Cliff, who created the popular character Charley Weaver.

We meet Arquette’s wife Christine McLarty (who looks like she could be Courteney Cox’s younger sister), a career news reporter who is now a film producer, and she seems to share our confusion on why David is pursuing this at age 46 – after a heart attack, which resulted in stints and blood thinners. When he speaks of his previous alcoholism, anxiety, and other mental and physical health issues, we hope this is his way of improving his health. However, as we follow him on the road, we realize, it really is about the wrestling and redemption.

The journey leads to a “backyard wrestling” match where amateurs looking to humiliate the actor pretty much beat the heck out of him. It’s at this point where he decides to train, and heads off to a facility in Virginia, followed by Cancun and Tijuana street wrestling, segments that prove quite entertaining. The pride of a wrestling match is mentioned, and we watch a ROCKY segment where Arquette chases a chicken, and is called “crazy white boy” while a Spanish version of “The Last Kiss” is played. I warned you this was a strange one.

At times we can’t help but think this is a hoax in the same way in which Joaquin Phoenix parlayed his acting “retirement” into I’M STILL HERE, a mockumentary on his pursuit of a hip hop career. The difference is that Arquette really trains and really wrestles, ending with a match at the “Legends of Wrestling” in Detroit against Ken Anderson. This is a film that feels like a gag when it starts, but very real by the end. It’s not enough to motivate me to go back and watch some of those terrible David Arquette movies, but it’s enough to tip my cap to a man pursuing respect and redemption.

Available at Drive-ins on August 21, 2020 and VOD on August 28, 2020

watch the trailer:

ORION (2016)

May 7, 2016

Dallas International Film Festival

orion2 Greetings again from the darkness. One of the things that watching so many movies has taught me is to respect the filmmaker’s vision. Because of this philosophy, I can usually find some connection … the story, a character, the setting, or the camera work. It’s rare when no part of a movie works for me, and it’s even rarer to stumble on a real clunker at the Dallas International Film Festival. Writer/director Asiel Norton’s latest drove more than a few festival goers to head for the exits within a short period of run time.

Post-apocalyptic films by nature are bleak affairs, as they attempt to show us what will happen if we human beings continue on our current path. This one takes place about 100 years after humanity is mostly wiped out. We follow The Hunter (David Arquette) as he scavenges for food in a world known as The Rust. He also deals with voices telling him that he is the chosen one … the savior of humanity … Orion.

As with so many saviors, The Hunter gets distracted from his destiny. His challenge is to rescue The Virgin (Lily Cole) from being held prisoner by Magos (Goran Kostic), a magician/mystic/shape-shifter who follows the rituals laid out in detail within an elaborately published document to which he subscribes. The only other real characters are The Fool (Maren Lord) and a newborn infant baby who is the victim of one of Magos’ cruelest acts.

All of these elements could be the foundation for an interesting project, but some serious script work was necessary before this one went to production. It seems Mr. Norton was mostly concerned with pounding viewers with his style rather than providing any real story or character development. The shaky-cam is so excessive and filled with close-up that some will undoubtedly approach nausea. The narration and religious overtones are borderline irritating, but at least there is some humor in the use of Tarot cards as chapter headers (as if there were a story) … and of course filming in Detroit and calling it The Rust.

Maybe this is what films will look like after the end of civilization. I should have waited until then to watch this one.

(I didn’t bother searching for the trailer.)



October 25, 2015

bone tamahawk Greetings again from the darkness. In an effort to be helpful to potential viewers, it’s customary to provide a synopsis that allows for a quick determination on whether this “type” of movie will hold appeal. The problem is that this debut from writer/director (and novelist) S. Craig Zahler can be encapsulated with a simple: four local men from a small, dusty old West town head out on a rescue mission to face a tribe of cannibal cave-dwellers. Unfortunately, that analysis doesn’t cover the originality and genre-twisting of this Western-Horror film featuring crisp and funny dialogue, plus some of the most extreme brutality ever witnessed on screen.

A very deep and talented cast milks the script for every possible chuckle, moan, shock of pain, and queasy squirm. Kurt Russell stars as Franklin Hunt, the sheriff of the ironically named town Bright Hope. Though a long-time fan of Mr. Russell, I’ve often been critical of his career-limiting role choices, and here he proves yet again that he has always been capable of taking on a challenging lead and delivering a nuanced performance. He is joined in the rescue posse by his “back-up deputy” Chicory (Richard Jenkins), the abducted woman’s injured husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson), and a nattily attired gunman (Matthew Fox).

The opening sequence featuring outlaws Purvis (David Arquette) and Buddy (horror vet Sid Haig doing his best Slim Pickins imitation) sets the stage for the brutal violence to come in the third act, as well as the film’s crackling dialogue that’s clearly influenced by The Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and Elmore Leonard. There are also brief but memorable supporting roles from Kathryn Morris (as the Sheriff’s wife), Michael Pare’ (as a self-centered stable owner), James Tolkan (as an uninspired piano player), and Fred Melamed (as the barkeeper). Lili Simmons (“Banshee”) has a key role as the abducted Samantha O’Dwyer.

An odd blending of John Ford’s The Searchers and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, a substantial portion of the (long) run-time is dedicated to the slow trail ride/walk of the four men as they track the “troglodyte” tribe in hopes of rescuing the captured folks. The focus on these four men: the duty-bound Sheriff, the overly loyal deputy, the emotionally-driven husband, and the vengeful gunslinger, is an old West character study dressed up with some fancy oration. In fact, the excessively-perfect English sits in stark contrast to the other-worldly tribal wailings of the cave-dwellers who seem to have no real language at all.

It’s an unusual film that defies a simple synopsis, and certainly won’t appeal to all movie goers. A viewer must enjoy the prolonged journey and the interaction between the distinctive personality types (Jenkins is a particular standout in a Walter Brennan-type role), and also have an affinity (or at least a constitution) for gruesome brutality. The film is only receiving a very limited theatrical release, but should find an audience via VOD.

watch the trailer:



THE KEY (2015)

October 8, 2015

key Greetings again from the darkness. Novelist Jurichiro Tanizaki was nominated for Nobel in Literature, and is one of the more revered modern era writers from Japan. His 1955 novel “Kagi” is the source for this direct-to-video effort from director Jefery Levy, as well as a 1983 film version from Italian director Tinto Brass. Mr. Levy’s production is some sort of experimental film approach that employs the LSD effect utilized by so many movies … only this one isn’t based in the 1960’s and the trippy drug plays absolutely no role here.

Jack (David Arquette) and Ida (Bai Ling) have been married 16 years, and have for the most part, ceased to communicate. This void especially bothers Jack as it pertains to their sex life. He is so focused on this aspect that he commits to writing down all his feelings on this topic in his diary. We learn this because he tells us. Narration is key to the film … well that and the headache-inducing strobe edits and combination lighting-color-texture used to bring the diary entries to life.

One day Jack leaves the key to his desk drawer out so that Ida has full access to his diary, and his deepest thoughts. She refuses to read it, and instead decides to start her own diary. These two are not so creative when it comes to tormenting each other … though they go to great lengths to avoid a conversation.

Somehow, despite the lack of a plot, the obnoxious strobe-lighting, the never-ending nudity, and the droning narration, Bai Ling manages to stand out in her role. For one thing, she is an infinitely better narrator than Mr. Arquette, but more importantly, she seizes the few opportunities to bring some depth and humanity to her character.

It’s a story of frustration, obsession, questionable sexual habits, and the price paid for an absence of communication. The dreamlike visuals and the incessant narration never allow us to really connect with either character … even with the Charlie Chaplin bits performed by Ms. Ling. The film might be worth exploring from a technical aspect, but the less-than-graceful translation of the novel makes this a tough one to watch, or even to understand who its audience might be.

watch the trailer: